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South Korean president to address nation over scandal

Friday, November 4, 2016 - 09:17

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South Korean President Park Geun Hye was to address the nation Friday over a corruption scandal that has engulfed her administration and triggered the arrest of a close personal friend accused of meddling in state affairs.

[SEOUL] South Korean President Park Geun Hye was to address the nation Friday over a corruption scandal that has engulfed her administration and triggered the arrest of a close personal friend accused of meddling in state affairs.

It marks the second time in 10 days that Ms Park has spoken directly to the country in an effort to contain the fallout from the scandal that broke last month.

Media reports suggest she will repeat an earlier apology, agree to be questioned as part of an official investigation and devolve some of her extensive executive powers to the prime minister and cabinet.

The decision to address the nation came as a Seoul court on Thursday formally approved an arrest warrant for Choi Soon Sil, Ms Park's long-time confidante, on charges of fraud and abuse of power.

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Mrs Choi is accused of leveraging her close relationship with Ms Park to coerce local firms into donating large sums to dubious non-profit foundations that she then used for personal gain.

Mrs Choi, whose late father was an elusive religious figure and an important mentor to Ms Park, also faces allegations that she interfered with government affairs, including the nomination of senior officials.

The shock scandal sparked nationwide protests urging Ms Park's resignation, as prosecutors considered launching a formal probe. If realised it would be the country's first investigation of a sitting president.

Under South Korea's constitution, the incumbent of the presidential Blue House cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason.

But senior government officials have suggested Ms Park could be quizzed by prosecutors as part of a general probe.

The investigation is also targeting companies - including Samsung and SK - that offered donations to foundations favoured by Mrs Choi.

Samsung - by far the country's largest business conglomerate - faces allegations that it separately offered millions of euros to Mrs Choi to bankroll her daughter's equestrian training in Germany.

The scandal has shaken the presidency, exposing Ms Park to public outrage and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, seen her approval ratings plunge into single digits.

In an effort to deflect rising public criticism, Ms Park has reshuffled her teams of ministers and senior advisers, amid calls to create a neutral cabinet by bringing in members from outside her ruling conservative Saenuri Party.

She has reached across the traditional political divide with a host of new appointments, including tapping the liberal Kim Byong Joon as her new prime minister, traditionally a largely symbolic post.

According to a Blue House source cited by the Yonhap news agency, Ms Park was expected to announce the delegation of executive powers related to economic and social affairs to her new prime minster, leaving her to focus on external affairs.

AFP

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